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Matthew 15:10-28 A Turning Point 8 20 17

The encounter between Jesus of Nazareth and the Canaanite woman in the
gospel of Matthew is a turning point in Jesus ministry that brings hope to us as
we wrestle with the pervasive realities of racism, bigotry and violence. You and I
are living with the consequences of racism that permeate humankind and tear us
apart from one another and apart from our own souls. We know that the events
in Charlottesville, Virginia, last week were not evidence of a new phenomenon in
our midst. We know that the events in Barcelona, Spain, are not evidence of a
recently emerged conflict. We know that everything from a 12 year old Evanston
boy arrested for riding on the back of a bicycle, to the ongoing genocides in Syria,
Sudan, Burundi and Myanmar are not evidence of a 21st century degeneration of
humankind. We have not figured out how to live as one people without putting
ourselves above or below each other in a hierarchy. I should rephrase that we
do have a model of how to do live in mutual interdependence, we simply havent
chosen to implement it.
The encounter between Jesus of Nazareth and the Canaanite woman gives
us a model to emulate and practice. It is a story of persistence, listening,
understanding, and staying woke. The story is linked to a teaching about Jewish
law. Jesus spends a lot of time going over the role of Law in the life of faith. He
speaks of the heart of the law as being more important than the letter of the law.
He emphasizes that God is more pleased with our expressions of mercy than our
ability to say a prayer in a particular formula. In this story, Jesus discusses with
his disciples and the Jewish leaders the guidelines of what makes someone
unclean, or defiled. In the Jewish law, if one had not washed correctly, or
prepared food according to the proscriptions of Leviticus, and one ate, that

person would become unclean and not allowed in the temple or to touch or
interact with anyone else of the faith. Jesus explains what is more important than
hurting your body with what you consume, is being concerned about hurting the
world with what comes out of your mouth. Your soul is not put at risk by whether
or not you washed your left or right hand first, or put the wrong meat in your
mouth, but your soul is damaged when your hands are engaged in acts of
violence, or hateful words come out of your mouth.
Now, more than ever, in our life together as human beings, what we say to
each other in private or in public reveals AND determines who we are. We enter
this sanctuary under a banner that reads: Be The Church. Gathering here, taking
communion, and sharing coffee do not make us the church. Our words to each
other and to the world are what will ultimately bring or deter the reign of God on
earth. Our ability to persist in anti-racism work, to listen and understand, and to
stay woke is what makes us Church .
Okay, so how do we get there Jesus and the Canaanite woman. The
people of the region of Tyre and Sidon were a conquered people. They were
overcome by the armies of Joshua. This was Canaan. The Promised Land. Land
taken from the people who were already living there. The animosity between the
Jewish Israelites and the pagan Canaanites was deep seated and generations long.
Canaanites were disparaged, excluded, marginalized, brutalized and abused.
In the story of this encounter, we start out rather hopeful. Here is a
woman marginalized by her gender, ethnicity, religion and a demon-possessed
daughter. We are hopeful that Jesus will overcome the barrier and welcome her.
We expect that the One we follow as our leader of faith will embrace the

beleaguered individual and shed light on why we should lift one another up. But
that would be a different story.
The woman comes on the scene boldly, shouting at the man she heard was
a healer. She wants his attention and his mercy, and shes not shy about asking
for it! Jesus responds with silence. Silence. He ignores her. He does not
acknowledge her existence. You and I know what its like to be ignored. It can be
painful and rage-inducing, or wounding and oppressive. It was a time to speak,
and he did not speak. His silence revealed his cultural context and impacted
those around him.
The woman persisted. She changed her tactics to seek the mercy of healing
she desperately desired for her daughter. She chose to show reverence by
kneeling, and expressed respect to Jesus by reaching across cultures to use a
phrase she heard associated with him Lord, Son of David.
This is the point Jesus decides to speak Im not going to give the
childrens food to the dogs. He went there! He used a phrase associated with
the Canaanite people to degrade them. He bullied her Jesus bullied her and
attempted to push her away by calling her a dog. He added insult to injury by
saying like a disinterested food server thats not my table. Im here for the
children of Israel, not the likes of you.
I dont know about you, but I think this is horrifying. The man whose life
and teaching I admire the most is acting in this situation like a narrow-minded
racist. If I were the woman advocating for my daughter, I would have been
stunned by this response, cowered, and gotten out of there as fast as possible.
Fortunately for Jesus and his future ministry, the Canaanite woman did not leave.
She persisted. She shouted, crossed cultures, and made sure she was heard. She

listened to him. She listened through his harsh language. Then she took the
metaphor that Jesus himself used to put her down, and used it to teach him. She
said, Even the dogs get crumbs from the masters table. She spoke the words of
mercy that Jesus proclaimed earlier in the day. He had said, God is not satisfied
with your adherence to the Law; God wants mercy. Gods way is open and
flexible, not rigid and punitive. Be mindful of what you say to others, because
harsh words will defile you.
We name, from time to time, how it was that Jesus would take familiar
concepts and turn them upside down the first will be last and the last will be
first; the shepherd leaves the flock to look for one lamb images like that. This is
the ultimate turning point. The outsider is the one who teaches the teacher; the
pagan, female, outcast Canaanite changes Jesus ways. Because of her
persistence, listening and understanding, Jesus is awakened to a new reality. Not
only does Jesus stop his tirade against her and heal her daughter, his ministry
expands. From that point forward, he travels to non-Jewish or Gentile territories
to preach, teach and heal. No longer is he limiting his message to the house of
Israel. The very one he called a dog is the one who exposed his refusal to show
mercy, and who ultimately was the catalyst of his transformation.
Our nation and our global village are in desperate need of transformation,
which can only come about through mercy. We have divided ourselves into
masters and dogs, we use insults, we ignore, we plead and we manipulate. If we
are to become one people, overcoming categories, racism and prejudice, we must
attune ourselves to the elements of hope in this story.

In this encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, we find
persistence, listening, and cross-cultural understanding. The woman did not give
up in her quest for healing for her child, then she used colloquial language, and
then she listened in order to enter into the culture of the other. All of these
things together are expressions of mercy. She had mercy on Jesus despite his
cultural limitations. She extended herself, putting herself at risk, in order to be
In response, Jesus was awakened to a new way of thinking an
appreciation of the other, an expansion of his own understanding of the mercy of
God, and the value of another human being in need. The significant thing is that
Jesus not only was awakened, he stayed woke. Defiling words about Canaanites
no longer came out of his mouth. His words and actions changed, and God was
As we go forth in confronting the racism that continues to rage in our
country and our world, WE continue in a positive way by following the model of
the Canaanite woman in persistence, listening and understanding, and following
the model of Jesus in receiving a new perspective, staying woke and making our
transformations evident in our words and actions.

matthew 15:10-28

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, Listen and
understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person,
but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles. Then the
disciples approached and said to him, Do you know that the
Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said? He
answered, Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will
be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And
if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit. But
Peter said to him, Explain this parable to us.Then he said, Are
you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever
goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the
sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart,
and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions,
murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These
are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not

Ann: Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and
Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and
started shouting, Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my
daughter is tormented by a demon. But he did not answer her at

And his disciples came and urged him, saying, Send her away, for
she keeps shouting after us. He answered, I was sent only to the
lost sheep of the house of Israel.

But she came and knelt before him, saying, Lord, help me. He
answered, It is not fair to take the childrens food and throw it to
the dogs.

She said, Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall
from their masters table.

Then Jesus answered her, Woman, great is your faith! Let it be

done for you as you wish. And her daughter was healed instantly.